Friday, July 24, 2020

Ghost Alley

This is chapter 31 of The Inheritance, a serial fiction novel on FITK

Wednesday Afternoon, July 29th, 2020, Seattle

“Excuse me, aren’t you Jo Sanford?”

Jo was seated at an outside table sipping a latte in front of Ghost Alley Espresso. She had just been approached by a curious-looking man wearing a flamboyant suit with a spotted bow-tie and sporting a pink beret. His lack of a mask made her uneasy. Jo had not been mask-less in public since the witch riot (when hers had been torn off by a protestor) and pictures of her with Sean had been posted on-line by Barbra Merrit, in an attempt to create interest in her book. Jo immediately knew that this was a kook who had seen her in the pictures.

“Excuse me, sir, masks on!”

"Of course! How thoughtless of me.”

After they had both masked up Jo answered.

“That’s better. Now, What is it that I can do for you?”

“I am Marcel DuPage, forgive me again for interrupting your coffee, but would you be so kind as to answer a couple of questions?”

Jo thought for a moment. The man was charming and the name rang a bell, so she decided that it might be better to speak with him directly.

“I am she. This must have something to do with me and Sean, I presume?”

“Indirectly, yes. But I am more interested in a woman that Sean and his wife escorted to a dance at my ballroom eight years ago.”

Jo knew who the man was now. She had seen the pictures of Sean, Mary and Emily entering the dance, and had wondered about the images herself. Marcel DuPage been interviewed on some of the reports she had read.

“Oh, yes, I remember seeing those pictures on-line. Pretty funny stuff, I liked the one with Sean and Mary and Mother Theresa.”

“Those were photo-shopped,” Marcel sniffed, taking out his iPad, “Here are the originals. Do you recognize this woman?”

“I hate to disappoint you, Mr. DuPage,” said Jo as she glanced at the device. The images on it were dated, with a time-code, and most had been enhanced. While the woman pictured resembled some of the pictures of Emily that Jo had seen, they were not conclusive. “To be perfectly honest, at the time these were taken I wasn’t in contact with Sean and Mary. I was living in a shelter and working as a barista. I had met them earlier, but I didn’t really get to know them until later, Mary and I had gotten to know each other better then.”

“Oh, that is disappointing.” said the man, “You wouldn’t have any idea who the woman in the pictures is?”

“Mary did mention that her step-mother had been to visit, but that was before I was on the scene. Could it have been her?” Jo knew that wasn’t the truth, of course, but she began to think that Marcel might have some secrets of his own, secrets that she could relay to Sean and Mary. “Tell me, Marcel, is it alright if I call you Marcel? What is your interest in all this? Do you really think that Sean and Mary are part of a conspiracy and have killed various people?

”No, no, no,” said Marcel, “And yes, please do call me Marcel. For me it is an affair of the heart.”

Marcel removed his glasses and wiped his eyes.

“Tell me, Ms Sanford, have you ever experienced a love so pure and intense that nothing else mattered?”

“No.” Jo said. That was not a lie.

“Well this is what I experienced with the woman in the photos, the woman who called herself Carol. Forgive me for being frank, but we had such a night of bliss, utterly surrendering to the great mystery.” He dabbed at his eyes again, “I’m starting to babble like an old fool, I’m sorry.”

Jo was taken aback at his display of emotion. She could feel his sadness, but had little empathy for his infatuation.

“Listen to me, Marcel. This quest of yours is futile. You are in love with a ghost. Give it up, make peace with yourself, find someone else, a real person, someone who you can share your love with.”

“You are right of course, but that doesn’t help when I wake in the middle of the night and sense her body next to mine, smell the perfume of her skin, and hear her voice crying out in ecstasy.”

“I understand,” said Jo, “But please, Marcel, understand this: Sean and Mary are two fine people, the finest I have ever known. They are doing the best they can in trying to bring up a daughter in a world filled with uncertainty and hate. What you are doing, what you and Barbara Merrit are doing by fueling these ridiculous theories, is harmful. It hurts innocent people and, if you continue down this path, it will end up destroying you both.”

Marcel DuPage’s face switched from sad to angry in an instant. He got up and walked briskly away. Jo removed her mask and resumed sipping her latte.

Mareka and her parents had just arrived home after their stay in the Cascades. Mareka ran straight out to the backyard while Mary picked up the mail on the counter that had come while they were gone. There was a note on the top of the pile:

Hi guys!
I went downtown—I just had to get out!
Be back by 5 with supper.
Everything was OK here, no riots this time!
CU soon, Jo.

Sean fired up his laptop and opened his email. Besides the usual dross there was a message from his literary agent, Jessica Eldridge, the woman who had brokered his books of Emily’s art:

Sean, just a heads up from me. There has been a writer from The New Yorker magazine who has been pestering me about an interview with you and Mary and the legacy of your grandmother’s art. She’s a first rate reporter.I know you two have been under scrutiny from the tabloids lately but you can’t buy this kind of publicity. Maybe this would be a chance to get your side of the story out? Let me know.
~ Jessie

“What do you think of this?” said Sean to Mary, “Are we ever going to get off this merry-go-round?”

“Mm… I don’t know,” said Mary, shuffling through the mail,  “Hey, check this out… ”

Mary handed Sean a brochure for an ‘Virtual International Wellness Event’. It was in with a letter requesting Mary to consider being a presenter.

“Oh dear… ” said Sean, “Never rains, but pours… ”

They were interrupted by Jo who had just waltzed into the kitchen with several bags of take-out food.

“Indian tonight!”

Next Chapter: Unclear Family

By Professor Batty

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